Friday, June 20, 2014

Why buy what you can build?

For the past two years I have used a hive top feeder.  The first year I noticed an unsettling amount of bee drownings, but otherwise I liked the easy access for the bees afforded by the hive top feeder.  Then last year I experienced a similar unsettling amount of drownings, but it was also compounded with a really gross hive beetle infestation.  I had a disturbing amount of hive beetle larvae showing up in the feeder - which was really gross and also difficult to get under control. 

No mas.  Behold the creative contraption invented by my handy man husband:

This is essentially the jar feeder method with some added perks.  We did a lot of investigation as to whether to poke the holes in the jar inward or outward.  I confirmed that my BANV notes on the subject from last year said to poke the holes from the inside of the jar going outward.  If I was listening correctly, the idea is that the bees can navigate around the sharp edges they can see - but if the holes are poked from the outside going inward, then they cut themselves when they drink.  Unfortunately, we became confused when we found conflicting information on the subject online.  The solution?  Poke the holes any way you want and sand down all of the sharp edges so there's no risk to the bees.  Dude, we seriously put in a lot of effort on this gadget.  And by we, I mean my husband Brian who did the entire thing.  All I did was pull out my BANV notes from last year... 

The entire frame rests inside an empty hive body, set immediately above the bees.  The bees have easy access and placing the jars inside the hive body means less risk of robbing.  An added benefit is that the jars slide in and out for refill without having to smoke the bees too often, meaning we can refill the jars without disrupting the hive.  Another benefit is that we lose MUCH less sugar water to evaporation, and NO bee drownings.  My singular concern is that the several holes providing access for the bees may not be sufficient to adequately feed an entire healthy colony.  We have been monitoring their intake, however, and it seems normal enough.  We are replacing one jar every 7-10 days or so I think which seems about right. 

I have to give full credit to the spouse for design, creation, and implementation.  I'm not entirely sure what I brought to the process, but I think I'll claim inspiration.   

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Bee Candy.

The bees are tucked away for the winter, as of mid-November.  We had one ice storm, and a light snow storm, and then last weekend (December 20th) the temperature reached 65 degrees or so.  Unfortunately, I was out of town for the holidays and couldn't peek in on the ladies.  I'm concerned the temperature fluctuations are wreaking havoc on their wintering. 

Before the temperature got too cold in November, I made some "bee candy" for the first time.  I was surprised at how well it went!  I certainly would not go back to purchasing fondant - of course, I say that without yet knowing whether the candy will contribute to their winter survival.  Here's the recipe:
  1. 1 cup water and 10 lbs. granulated sugar (or a 1 to 4 ratio).
  2. Add 1/4 tsp. per vinegar per pound of sugar.
  3. Bring to boil, stirring constantly until boiling commences.
  4. Boil without stirring for 3 minutes, covered.
  5. Insert thermometer, and boil uncovered until 234F is reached.
  6. Remove from heat, and allow to cool to 200F.
  7. Whip with whisk until whiteness occurs.
  8. Pour (QUICKLY!) onto waxed paper having a towel beneath.
  9. Allow to cool undisturbed.
  10. Remove waxed paper, and store each cake in a plastic bags.
Here's a picture of the final product:
I was surprised at how well it worked.  I used 10 pounds of sugar, and 1 cup of water.  I think using more water would have resulted in a more pliable candy.  My candy is pretty hard.  However, I did not want any excess moisture in the candy, because last year my pliable fondant froze to resemble hard glass by spring.  I assume the bees have an easier time eating something that is not essentially, ice.  And a pliable bee candy will be hard as a rock when it freezes anyway.   
I added an empty hive body on top of the hive; stapled hardware cloth at the bottom (with holes big enough for bees); wrapped the bee candy in news paper; and placed the candy and a pollen patty in the empty hive body on top of the hardware cloth.  I covered the top hive body with the inner cover and put the lid on. 
I did not add any extra ventilation, though I know it is recommended.  I basically don't know what do to in terms of ventilation, so I do nothing.  I'm so concerned about the bees being subject to wind drafts and icy rain, etc.
I usually use the pest bottom board to help with ventilation in winter, but at the moment it is not in place, and I assume its absence is helping with ventilation.  I really have no idea whether it is better to put the pest board in place or not in winter.  If we have a big drop in temperature, I will probably put it in. 
Last year I wrapped the hive in tar paper.  I'm not convinced it helped all that much, however.  I have not taken that step yet this year. 

Friday, November 1, 2013


It happened.  Failure.  Not my first, certainly not my last.  My bees died.  They were alive in February, not alive in March.  I went into the hive when it was warmer weather at the end of March.  There were many dead bees at the bottom, some dead bees with their heads in comb looking for food.  The hive was heavy with honey.  The queen was dead at the top, alone.  Last woman standing.  The fondant I added to supplement their food was hard as a rock, completely frozen.  A few bees were frozen to it.  The pollen patty was there as well - untouched. 

The failure was bitter but motivating.  I signed up for and just completed an 8 week course on beekeeping through BANV (Beekeepers of Northern Virginia).  Possibly the single best thing I learned was that 2012 was a tough year for everyone's bees.  The drought meant you had to feed all year long (which I did) and the erratic weather in March meant many hives broke their cluster when the weather warmed, and then died when it froze again and the snow came.  This is good, I think to myself.  It was not my fault.

Lessons learned for next winter:
* do not use fondant.  use sugar cakes instead and wrap in newspaper to absorb the moisture.
* consider overwintering in a nuc box (apparently the hives in nuc boxes had a higher rate of survival, at least locally). 
* use a mouse guard.
* use a robbing screen as of August, especially if we have drought. (I don't know if robbing was a problem last year...)

I have placed an order for a nuc hive (an established have that comes in a smaller box) as opposed to package bees (which come in the mail).  Last year I used European packaged bees from Georgia.  This year I would like to use local bees (possibly Russians) in a nuc hive.  The downside is that nucs are not typically ready until mid to late May.  So at the moment, I sit and wait. 

Failure also has the effect of making you reevaluate your goals.  Initially, I had day dreams about harvesting my honey and delivering it to friends in family cloaked in the glory of my successful and earthy hobby.  No more.  My short term goal is to have a hive survive winter.  Contribute to local pollinators.  Get better at handling them, recognizing and addressing problems.  My long term goal - one day - would be to harvest some honey....but who knows how far away that reality is. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

...anticipating winter...

Now they ball in a mass,
Mind against all that white.
The smile of the snow is white.
It spreads itself out, a mile-long body of Meissen,

Into which, on warm days,
They can only carry their dead.
The bees are all women,
Maids and the long royal lady.
They have got rid of the men,

The blunt, clumsy stumblers, the boors.
Winter is for women ----
The woman, still at her knitting,
At the cradle of Spanis walnut,
Her body a bulb in the cold and too dumb to think.

Will the hive survive, will the gladiolas
Succeed in banking their fires
To enter another year?
What will they taste of, the Christmas roses?
The bees are flying. They taste the spring.

~ Sylvia Plath, a segment from Wintering

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Adventures with Wax Moths and Robbing.

So here's a story:  Last week my husband went to the shed for something and discovered a large bucket COVERED in wax moth larvae.  He pulled it together like a champion and removed the mess.  I was at work at had no part in this, thankfully.  How did this happen?  I hesitate to disclose it for risk of revealing my ineptitude.  However, remember when spring came and I installed my nuc?  Prior to installation I cut out damaged comb and comb infected with wax moth larvae.  In my infinite wisdom I decided not to discard the removed comb - mostly because in bee class I remember Rob stating never to throw away wax because someone will want it and people will even pay for it.  Ok.  I'll keep the wax.  Let's put it in a trash bag and put it in the shed.  Good idea, Samantha.  3 months later we have a giant bucket of ick to deal with. 

My last post commented on the problem of wax moths vs. hive beetles.  I have since concluded that I had a wax moth problem.  The problem was concentrated in the hive top feeder - where I would find TONS of little worm-like larvae.  To treat this problem I removed the feeder, cleaned it, and stuck it in the freezer for a few days to kill any of the little suckers that may have been hiding.  This appears to have worked.  I have not seen any additional larvae problems.  A few adult moths have been spotted in the pest tray.  However, the fact that I have a weak hive is clear.  I'm not confident I have solved the problem entirely - but pleased for the moment with the improvement.   

Next issue:  After I feed, I notice a lot of excited activity outside the hive.  I have put on my robber screen - but I still see a lot of activity.  It looks something like this:

At first I thought they were just happy bees.  After further research, I am concerned that after I feed, my weak colony is being robbed.  I have on the robber screen - what else can I do to protect against robbing?  I have no confidence that these ladies are going to survive the winter...and it's only July.  Think positively.... Frankly, I think the nuc I got was a dud.  I know that everyone in class is opposed to package bees - but my packaged Italian bees last year from Georgia were far more robust than the local nuc of Carniolans I purchased this year.  I also do not think the queen I purchased this year was a strong queen.  The productivity of these bees has just been far worse than last year, and they had the advantage of pre-drawn comb.  Of course, there may have been a few was moths to deal which is a factor to consider.  Unfortunately, assuming I have to go back to the drawing board next year, I will again be purchasing package bees with a marked queen. 


Monday, July 8, 2013

A larva by any other name...

It's July.  It's hot.  It's rainy.  The nectar flow has been (reportedly) heavy and bees have (allegedly) been very productive this year.  Beekeepers all over NOVA seem to be doing well, harvesting honey etc.

It has been approximately 8 weeks since I installed my nuc.  I went in for an inspection last week and to supplement the feed.  To my horror the hive top feeder had about 20-30 larvae swimming around in the remnants of the last serving of sugar syrup.  I cannot tell the difference between wax moth larvae (above) and hive beetle larvae (below).  It is frustrating.  They both seem equally disgusting to me. 

I did see an actual (adult) wax moth as I was pounding on the feeder and forcing larvae to rain down on my Chooka boots.  This leads me to conclude my problem is wax moths.  It also leads me to conclude that this is my fault because I installed bees in a hive with wax moths - though I did my best to clear out the problem areas.  My reading indicates that the best course is to prevent, rather than try to cure wax moths.  I can do this by freezing brood comb - that seems difficult and damaging.  I can also seal off any entrances where the moths are gaining access.  This makes me realize that adding my third medium box last weekend may not have been the wisest course of action.  Though, when I looked at the frames I saw no immediate indication of wax moths - just the little critters in the hive top feeder.  Spotty brood pattern in the second box - but I did not go into the first box.  Lots of honey.

Another problem I have is that I cannot identify the queen.  Sorry people, I can't do it.  I took the class.  I've looked at pictures.  I've read the books.  Show me 30,000 bees and I will never be able to pull out the one queen.  Discouraging.  I guess she's in there, however, because I have brood. 

Yet another problem I have is robbing (I think).  The guard bees have been spotted fighting off look-alike bees who are attempting to enter the hive.  They have gotten violent at times, and one guard bee flew one such intruder across the yard and dropped her.  This is also discouraging. 

Objectives for next week:  put up robbing screen; conduct full inspection for wax moths in the comb and purchase treatments if necessary.   

Friday, May 31, 2013

My Nuc.

Two weeks ago I picked up my nuc hive and successfully installed it.  I was somewhat concerned because I installed in the hive which was the prior home of my (now deceased) first set of bees.  It was heavy with (old) honey and had been vacant all spring.  It was riddled with hive moths - which was interesting because I got to see my first hive moth larvae.  The hive moths tended to leave a fuzzy weblike substance in their wake and their larvae were down in some of the comb (I think).  There were 2 cocoons, which I disposed of.  Part of me felt guilty installing a fresh new hive in a "used" hive - but I figured the honey and existing healthy comb should at least be an asset for the new ladies.  I did the best I could to clean it out - I carved out any hive moth portions and burned out any questionable areas. 

Since the nuc came with 5 frames, I had to select 5 old frames to remove.  This enabled me to remove the most damaged frames.  Now I have a trash bag sack of old wax, old honey and bee and hive moth guts and leavings...ew.  Is it possible for me to purify this sack of "ew" to an extent where I could possibly do something useful with the wax? candles?  (what else does a person do with wax?) I don't know.  It's Friday, so it looks like that might be my Saturday project.